Unlocking your creativity: Tips and tools for game ideation

Unlocking your creativity: Tips and tools for game ideation

Part 1 โ€“ From idea to game: A beginner's guide to creating games with Unity

Jan 16, 2023ยท

8 min read

Welcome to the first article in my series on learning game development with Unity! In this series, I will be taking you along on my journey as I learn how to create games from scratch using Unity. Whether you are a complete beginner like me or an experienced developer, I hope you will find something of value in these articles.

Before we get started, I want to let you know that I already spent a bit of time on a Unity project last year, so I have a basic understanding of the editor. However, I am still learning and this series is intended for beginners.

In the first three articles, I want to cover the process of how to come up with game ideas, refine them and start planning out the development process. From my experience as a product owner, the steps you make to prepare your development projects are often universally applicable. So, whether you are working on a small personal project or a larger commercial one, these steps will help set you up for success.

So let's build cool shit.

It all starts with an idea ๐Ÿ’ก

A crumpled sheet of paper with a lightbulb sketch, symbolising the moment of inspiration for a new idea

One of the most exciting โ€“ and sometimes daunting โ€“ parts of game development is coming up with ideas on what to create. In my experience, it can either go two ways. You either get stuck in the "blank page syndrome" and struggle to come up with anything that feels interesting. Or, you can be overflowing with cool game ideas, but you do not know which one to go with.

This initial stage is all about capturing as many ideas that come to mind. Focus on quantity! Do not worry about feasibility, uniqueness or anything else. We will get to narrowing down and refining the ideas in the next article.

Tools and techniques ๐Ÿ› 

A wall covered in colourful sticky notes, representing the brainstorming process of creating ideas

Let us start with the easiest way to brainstorm: brainwriting. Grab yourself a pen and some sticky notes and start writing. Whatever comes to mind, write it on a sticky note and put it on the wall. If the genius juices stop flowing, take a moment, sit back and read what you have captured already. Look for connections, clusters and outlandish combinations. Get those gears spinning again!

Alternatively, you can use an online tool. Miro is probably the first one that comes to mind for a lot of readers. And with good reason. You will be sold if you have a look at their brainstorming and ideation templates. However, if you want to keep it simple, you can start with a blank canvas and work with digital sticky notes. Oh, and it has a free plan, which should be enough for a solo brainstorm!

Another cool free tool is Whimsical. It is mostly used for flowcharts and wireframes, but can also be used for brainstorms such as a mind map. A mind map is an intuitive way to brainstorm your thoughts without having to worry about structure. That sounds a bit abstract and can be hard to grasp, but this page from Whimsical has a live demo that should clear everything up.

I have had my fair share of brainstorming sessions, which covered different techniques and tools to generate outcomes. Regardless of the technique or tool you pick, one thing always comes back: Take regular breaks! Go for a walk, read a few pages of a book, or listen to a few songs. Turn your brain off for a bit, and come back refreshed.

6 Tips on how you can create ideas ๐Ÿš€

So far I have covered some techniques and tools that can help you. But where do you draw inspiration from? How do you get your brain to output those ideas? Here are some tips that might help.

  1. Look for inspiration in your hobbies and interests, as well as in the games that you enjoy playing. What elements make those games fun and engaging? How can you incorporate those elements into your ideas? Probably the most famous example is Minecraft, which was created by Notch (Markus Persson), who was a big fan of games like Dwarf Fortress and Infiniminer. He combined elements of both these games, such as block-based building and open-world exploration, to create Minecraft.

  2. Take a theme, genre or feature that you enjoy and merge them or put a twist on it. A great example of this is Rocket League, combining cars with football, or a bit of an older one with Spore, which combined simulation, RPG and RTS quite successfully.

  3. Start with a gameplay mechanic and build an idea around that. For example, maybe the developers at Dice were really into parkour when they created Mirrors Edge. Afterwards, maybe the developers at Techland enjoyed Mirrors Edge and figured, this would be amazing with zombies when they created Dying Light. (Taking a game mechanic to build their idea around and combining multiple genres.)

  4. Look to other media for inspiration. Books, movies, podcasts and television shows can all be great sources of ideas for games. The Witcher series is a perfect example. The series is based on a series of books by Andrzej Sapkowski. Now I do not expect you to have the licenses to create video games from books you own, but you can still draw inspiration from them nonetheless.

    Geralt of Rivia in the Witcher 3 facing off a fiend with silver sword in hand

  5. Collaborate and get feedback on your ideas from friends, family, colleagues, or online communities. Be mindful of who you ask, as they may not have experience with video games or an understanding of your target audience. For example, if you pitch your idea for a quick online FPS with a unique twist to your 90-year-old grandpa, you might not get the feedback you want. But then again, who knows what crazy input he might give you ๐Ÿ˜‰.

  6. Keep your eyes and ears open. Sometimes something just happens in life and it could lead to an interesting idea for you. When you are actively working on games, and generating game ideas, something in life might happen that leads to your next project. One example is Papers, Please. The creator, Lucas Pope, was inspired during his travels by border securities. He used those experiences to create a game that simulates the difficult decisions and moral dilemmas that border officials face in real life.

I can not stress it enough: Write down all your ideas and explore as many possibilities as you can. By doing this, you will have a bunch of ideas to choose from as you move on to the next stage of the preparation. Do not worry about where your ideas come from โ€“ just make sure to capture them and keep them somewhere safe so you can refer back to them later.

Sharing my game ideas ๐Ÿง 

Now that I have shared techniques, tools and tips for brainstorming game ideas, it is time to put that knowledge into action. Below I have shared a handful of ideas that were a result of my brainstorming sessions. I hope they can be of use as examples, or perhaps inspiration for your games.

  • Survival RPG in an unforgiving world: This idea takes inspiration from games such as Fallout and This war of mine. Players would be part of a surviving group who need to rediscover the world after a climate apocalypse ravaged the world for a long time. Think about scavenging supplies, base construction, dealing with other factions and, of course, surviving the environment. It would be a punishing, exploration-focused survival game.

    Ravaged empty city street. Green everywhere, reclaiming the city

  • Chaotic fish frenzy: The best way I can describe it is Insaniquarium on steroids. A chaotic, fast-paced fish simulation game with over-the-top mechanics and gameplay. Much faster that the aforementioned example, and with space for humour, silliness and other creativity.

  • City-builder with a time twist: Players would build, expand and rework their cities. Changes made now will impact later ages to which they will switch back and forth. I think it can make for some interesting challenges. Oh? You have made 4 churches in one city block? Well, say hello to this religious power dominating the lands in future eras.

  • Story-focused RPG: Players would need to scrape by in a totalitarian state where a small elite controls everything and the regular people are starving and suffering. The game could be pretty dark and it would feature moral choices. it could play out at the start of an uprising.

  • Narrative puzzler: Players would be put into the role of a scientist trying to prevent a terrible event from happening. The game would have a strong emphasis on puzzle-solving, as the player would need to figure out the cause of the event and how to prevent it. It could feature a branching story based on player choices, and therefore, different outcomes.

Take the first step ๐Ÿ”ฅ

Thinking and planning man looking at wall full of documents with ideas, concepts, images.

You have reached the end of the first article of this series and now it is time to take action. I believe game development can be a challenging and rewarding journey, but the most important thing is to take that first step. Whether you are starting like me, or an experienced developer, creating games with Unity is a great way to learn new skills, explore your creativity and build something that you can be proud of.

I hope you have learned a thing or two today. And even more, I hope you are starting this journey along with me. The next steps are to filter and refine your ideas and then plan out your development process. These topics will be covered in the next two articles.

Finally, do not forget to share your progress and results in the comments below. Whether you are just starting or you have already made progress, I would love to hear about your experience and see what you have got so far. And if you have any questions or feedback about this article, please let me know. Together, we can learn and grow ๐Ÿค“!

So go ahead, take the first step, and start building cool shit!

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